Critique: Petty knows how to entertain
By Divina Infusino
The Milwaukee Journal — Monday, August 17, 1981
East Troy, Wis. — Few performances this year have hit the heart of rock ‘n’ roll like Sunday night’s show by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at Alpine Valley Music Theater.
Petty knows the makings of a great concert — the careful balance between being theatrical and being spontaneous, between the need for familiarity and the need for surprise.
Starting with “American Girl,” the concert’s drama and tension spiraled steadily. It temporary receded into songs that were slower or less widely known, like “Listen to Her Heart,” only to plunge into an emotion-charged “Here Comes My Girl,” his hit about love as a refuge from the world.
Dressed in a splashy, flowered cowboy shirt, the long, lean, blond Petty stalked the stage, playfully toying with his five-piece band and the audience of 12,500.
His antics not only brought the crowd’s adrenaline to a peak, but also bridged the disparate styles, tempos and moods of Petty’s show.
Petty has blended various musical influences into a multifaceted rock sound that is all his own. Those influences became clear as Petty’s show took unexpected twists, veering from a low-down, blues-tinged song like The Animals’ “Don’t Bring Me Down” to a country number like “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.”
Petty’s versatility was greatest on the songs from his latest album, “Hard Promises,” and his biggest selling LP, “Damn the Torpedoes.”
With Benmont Tench smoothly shifting from organ to grand piano and Stan Lynch appropiately powering the sound on the drums, Petty gave a haunting rendition of “Woman in Love” and “The Waiting.”
Throughout, Mike Campbell’s lead guitar complemented Petty’s raspy, grinding, controlled vocals.
The show’s centerpiece arrived when the lights dimmed and the mood turned mysterious and moody for “Break Down.” Petty then unleashed a vocal passion never heard on records.
The set concluded with his biggest song, “Refugee.” But Petty returned for two encores.